Nairobi, Nov 16 – The number of mountain gorillas in the wild has gradually increased over the past 30 years, and are up from 240 to 604, based on the latest census, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund reported, adding that their official status has now been re-classified, from “critically endangered” — the highest level of threat – to “endangered,” a level further from extinction.

“This is a remarkable and unique conservation success story,” said Fund President and CEO/Chief Scientist Tara Stoinski in a press release. “It is the result of decades of on-the-ground protection by hundreds of dedicated individuals, many of whom lost their lives to protect the gorillas, and a testament to the conservation efforts of the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo where these gorillas live.”

“Mountain gorillas have experienced some of the highest levels of protection of any animal — more than 20 times the global average of field staff per square kilometer. This is the type of extreme conservation required if we want to ensure a future for wildlife,” added Dr. Stoinski.

The latest assessment is published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the international organization that tracks the conservation status of animal and plant species around the world — based on the input of expert scientists. Unfortunately, the status of all other gorilla populations remains at critically endangered, due to steady ongoing declines.

Dr. Stoinski said that despite this positive signal, significant threats to the mountain gorillas remain, including limited habitat (only about 300 square miles in total), disease, human pressures, climate change, and their overall small number. “They remain a conservation-dependent species and must be continually protected,” says Dr. Stoinski. “Any one of these threats could change their status very quickly.”

Sigourney Weaver, who portrayed Fossey in the movie version of Fossey’s book “Gorillas in the Mist,” has served as honorary chair of the Fossey Fund for more than 30 years. “When we filmed the movie, just after Dian’s murder [in 1985], the magnificent mountain gorillas were at such a low point and very close to extinction,” she said. “Like Dian, we all feared for their future.”